Judge blocks Iraq troops payout bid

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The Independent Online

A High Court judge today blocked attempts by families of soldiers killed in Iraq to seek compensation from the Government under human rights legislation.

But Mr Justice Owen allowed a negligence claim brought on behalf of one soldier's child to go ahead - a ruling lawyers hailed as a landmark.

Lawyers representing families said they aimed to appeal against the judgment on human rights claims.

Relatives said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) failed to provide armoured vehicles or equipment which could have saved lives and should pay compensation.

MoD lawyers said decisions about battlefield equipment were for politicians and military commanders and asked the High Court to stop compensation claims going forward.

The judge announced his ruling today after hearing arguments from all sides during a three-day hearing in London in May.

The judge heard that compensation claims had been made following an incident in which a British Challenger tank opened fire on another British Challenger tank after an officer became "disorientated" and incidents in which soldiers died after Snatch Land Rovers hit improvised bombs.

Corporal Stephen Allbutt, 35, of Sneyd Green, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, was killed by "friendly fire" in March 2003 after his Challenger 2 tank was hit by another Challenger 2 tank.

Private Phillip Hewett, 21, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, died in July 2005 after a Snatch Land Rover was blown up.

Similar explosions claimed the lives of Private Lee Ellis, 23, of Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, in February 2006, and Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath, 22, of Romford, Essex, in August 2007.

A spokeswoman for relatives' lawyers said the judge had blocked claims by Pte Hewett's mother, Susan Smith, L/Cpl Redpath's father, Colin, and Pte Ellis's sister, Karla.

"Susan Smith, Colin Redpath and Karla Ellis brought claims under the Human Rights Act of 1998," said the spokeswoman.

"Unfortunately the claims of these three claimants were struck out."

She added: "Mr Justice Owen was persuaded that the deceased soldiers were outside the jurisdiction of the UK at the time of their deaths because they were not in the UK nor on a British Army base. Therefore the European Convention on Human Rights does not apply at all."

Solicitor Jocelyn Cockburn said: "Sue Smith and the other Snatch Land Rover families have fought for years to bring this matter to the attention of the courts.

"Their main motivation was to have these vehicles removed from use so that other soldiers would not be killed unnecessarily. They achieved that.

"Now the Snatch families are appealing this ruling because they want the MoD to be accountable for allowing their loved ones to go into combat in vehicles that were manifestly unsuitable for the job.

"This is important because, if the MoD knows it has a legal duty to protect soldiers, then in future the safety of soldiers will be a priority, as it should be."

Ms Smith said: "I am disappointed that the judge has struck my case out but I am determined to appeal the decision.

"It cannot be right that British soldiers are considered to be outside the jurisdiction when they are sent to fight for their country.

"Phillip was at all times a British citizen and subject to the orders of his superiors, which is why he was in a Snatch Land Rover in the first place.

"He knew they were unsafe and he was scared for his life, but he was a true soldier and he obeyed orders and this cost him his life.

"If Phillip had known the MoD was going to wash its hands of responsibility for his safety the moment he was sent to war, I don't think he would have gone. Fair is fair."

Relatives' lawyers said the judge had taken a different view when considering a claim that the MoD had been negligent - brought on behalf of Pte Ellis's 10-year-old daughter Courtney.

But they said the MoD aimed to appeal against the judge's ruling on that claim.

"Mr Justice Owen did not accept the MoD's argument that, because the case touched on procurement and policy issues, it would not be fair or in the public interest to impose such a duty. Nor did he accept that the case is unsuitable for the courts," added the lawyers' spokeswoman.

"He therefore refused to strike out the negligence claim being brought on behalf of Courtney Ellis. This claim will continue, although the MoD intends to appeal."

Karla Ellis, Courtney's aunt - who is bringing a case on her niece's behalf - added: "I very pleased that Courtney's claim can go through as she has suffered the most.

"I am disappointed that my case has been struck out and that it is such a long and painful process to achieve justice for my brother."